HRAWI expressed concern over the rising incidences of online hotel rooms booking frauds
The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) has expressed concern over the rising incidences of online hotel rooms booking frauds as well as instances of targeted smear campaigns on social media against hospitality brands. The Association has identified cyber-criminal activities that list fake hotels websites on popular search engines that appear to be authentic and dupe unsuspecting customers into making payments for room bookings. Member establishments of the Association have voiced concern about their brand reputation being tarnished by social media influencers creating fake videos or posting fake reviews in a bid to attract more views and followers.
Taking into account the rapid recurrence of such instances over the last one year, HRAWI has planned to take up the issue with the concerned Government authorities and law enforcement agencies. It also intends to reach out to online platforms that freely allow miscreants to dupe unsuspecting customers and malign the reputation of brands, for a stronger regulation of content posted on their platforms.
“The issue of cyber criminals creating fake booking websites of hotels and restaurants is a matter of serious concern to the industry. Such activities not only cause financial loss to customers but also severely damage the reputation of the hospitality establishments. We urge customers to be vigilant while making bookings online and to report any suspicious activity to the concerned authorities. HRAWI will approach the Government to enact laws to protect citizens and commercial enterprises from social media influencers who misuse their following to blackmail honest establishments,” says Mr Pradeep Shetty, President, HRAWI.
HRAWI has strongly condemned these malicious activities and urged customers to be vigilant when making bookings online. The Association also advised customers to book only through authentic websites and social media pages of hotels and restaurants and to report any suspicious activity to the concerned authorities.
“We will report specific instances to law enforcement agencies to identify and take action against cyber criminals. We will also escalate the matter and take it up with the online platforms that allow such anti-social elements to freely misuse their platforms. HRAWI remains committed to promoting and protecting the interests of the hotel and restaurant industry, and will continue to work towards creating a safe and secure environment for customers and businesses alike,” concludes Mr Shetty.
Case 1: The UniContinental, Hotel Samrat, and Hotel Singhs International in Khar were targeted by cyber criminals who posted their phone numbers on the hotel's Google websites, tricking customers into believing that they were the hotel. The fraudsters sweet-talked customers and asked for a 50 per cent deposit for room bookings, cheating them out of their money. Despite complaints to Google, the pictures took 48 hours to remove, during which time the fraudster posted more pictures. Guests were blaming the hotels for not removing the pictures from their website. Mr Paramjit Ghai, owner of the properties registered a complaint of cybercrime at the Khar Police Station.
Case 2: Pictures of some random hotel and hotel rooms with different mobile numbers superimposed on those photos were published on Hotel Amigo's Google Maps account. A Delhi based company - B2B Hospitality, sent an email to the hotel claiming to have deposited Rs.9200/- into IDFCFirst account for hotel room reservation. The client provided the hotel with a receipt for the transaction which was conducted via ICICI bank. The hotel does not have an account with IDFCFirst but the payment receipt indicated Hotel Amigo as the beneficiary in the transaction details.
The hotel attempted to verify the facts with IDFCFirst bank on several occasions and eventually, the bank confirmed that the transaction had occurred on 17.02.23 and that the account in question belonged to an individual and not a business. The receipt showed ‘Amigo Hotel’ as the recipient, rather than the personal name of the account holder to which the bank informed the hotel that NEFT/RTGS transactions are settled based on account number and IFSC code; and that the account holder's name is not taken into account for settlement. Since it was a case of cybercrime, the hotel filed an FIR and posted a message on the fraudulent photos to prevent further cheating.